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A few Cheltenham jazz fest standouts

April 24, 2016

The Cheltenham Jazz Festival is almost here, and has plenty of goodies to choose from. (Others’ selections are here and here). I know we have our own jazz festival now, but with the (temporary?) loss of the main programme at Brecon and the shrinking of the Bath Festival jazz weekend to a single eye-catching gig Cheltenham is the most significant out-of-town jazz event in easy reach for Bristolians this year. Fortunately, the festival goes from strength to strength, recent expansion having been consolidated on the back of some shrewdly chosen commercial acts, leaving plenty of scope for adventurous stuff in the several venues they have at their disposal.

It looks like a proper festival, too…

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Just a few sets I’m particularly looking forward to. Soweto Kinch on Friday night, who was on torrentially Rollins-like form last time I caught him (at Brecon, as it happens), in a trio with the top drawer US drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Then on Saturday we have Tim Berne‘s quintet, another independent-minded saxist who now records for ECM after years of creative work on his own label.

Two rare offerings I’m most excited about, though, are on Sunday. First up is Julian Arguelles with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. Their album of South African jazz classics – which like the gig features Julian’s brother Steve on drums and Django Bates on keys – was on lots of best of year lists in 2015, including mine. I tried to explain why in a review. It’s hard to see this project making too many live appearances, so this may be the only chance to savour the marvellous tunes left to us by Chris McGregor, Johnny Dyani, Dudu Pukwana, Miriam Makeba, and more, in some spectacular new big band arrangements.

Also eagerly awaited is the trio Rom Schaerer Eberle. I don’t know the other two (guitarist and trumpeter respectively) but Andreas Schaerer is a remarkably creative and versatile improvising vocalist, judging from recent recordings (one of which I describe here). By all accounts he is extraordinary to hear live.

There’s a pile of other big name stuff (Taj Mahal!, David Sanborn!), a free stage, and an expanded fringe programme around the town this year that is well worth checking out. Already wondering if I can manage more than the half dozen sets I have tickets for, or whether to try and pop up to Cheltenham for more than Fri, Sat, Sun, which is the current plan. If it just gets a little warmer, it’s be a near ideal holiday weekend. Reviews from me on LondonJazzNews as soon as I can tear myself way from the music to write them 🙂

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